Caitlin UltimoGrooming / Health

Senior Cats Need Special Grooming

In the past three decades alone, the life span of domestic cats has steadily increased. Many of our pampered cat companions are living well into their teens and even 20s now. Longer lives bring age-related challenges. I currently share my home with three senior cats. At 14 years (still in the senior category) to 18 years (well into the geriatric category), their ages are equivalent to people in their early 70s to late 80s. These “old guys” really tug at my heart.

Like most senior and geriatric cats, my pets don’t get around quite like they used to. And they don’t have the luxurious coats of their younger glory days. Have you also noticed your cat isn’t grooming himself as much anymore and his coat looks dull and scruffy? It could be due to one or more specific age-related matters. It may be indicative of a health concern or poor diet. Frequently, senior cats face issues like diabetes, hyperthyroidism and kidney disease. Dandruff is often present, being more visible on darker coats. Thankfully, there are many ways to help our senior cats to look and feel their very best.

Signs of Trouble

Most cats will continue to groom themselves, or autogroom, throughout their lifetime. Some of them are more enthusiastic about it than others, but the vast majority of cats take a significant interest in their personal hygiene. When a cat no longer shows an interest in grooming, it’s important to look for the underlying cause(s). The easiest place to check is the mouth. What’s the condition of the teeth and gums? If their mouth is painful or sore because of damaged teeth or infected gums, they may avoid grooming altogether. Like people, cats require regular dental care. It’s very common for cats to develop periodontal disease at a young age. This problem only worsens with time.

If left unkempt, a poor quality coat mats up easily, turning tiny tangles into tight knots. This is particularly painful for a senior cat who lacks excess fat and muscle tone. Cat skin becomes thinner and loses elasticity with age. This makes them more prone to injuries such as bruising and tearing. The stress of a matted coat pulling the skin tight can be avoided with simple, proactive measures that will greatly improve the cat’s life.

Please don’t put off grooming care for your senior cat because you don’t want to make him uncomfortable. Believe me, a few moments of minor discomfort or annoyance is far better than days, weeks or months of suffering with a neglected coat and potentially underlying skin infections. When a cat with a neglected coat is finally groomed, the excessive de-matting and intense grooming required can be physically and mentally overwhelming. Frequent, regular grooming is much easier on your cat and more enjoyable for both of you. If the task feels overwhelming, seek out the assistance of a cat groomer who specializes in working with older cats.

Another likely physical impairment that makes autogrooming difficult, if not impossible, is osteoarthritis. Studies have shown that 90 percent of cats 10 years and older have some degree of damage and pain from this degenerative joint disease. When I was a veterinary assistant in Texas, I saw countless X-rays that showed clear evidence of arthritis in the majority of older cats.

Senior cats may also have trouble keeping themselves clean during and after using the cat litter box. Many health issues cause excessive urination. One consequence is the cat stands in highly concentrated, urine-soaked litter, which then clumps into the paw fur and onto the pads. If soiled fur is a frequently encountered problem, your cat’s groomer or veterinarian can provide a sanitary trim. It may be beneficial to request they trim the fur around the paw pads. With nothing there for litter to stick to for a few weeks, your cat will be a lot more comfortable and you won’t have to deal with a stinky, gross mess.

What You Can Do to Help

To help your senior cat, spend a few minutes every day on some form of assisted grooming. Simply petting your cat from head to tail and underneath will make you aware of any problems before they get out of hand. Gently work through the coat, alternating with a rubber brush, a stainless steel comb and a soft-pin slicker brush. Give extra attention to the hips, hind legs and underside; these areas are where mats commonly form. These spots may also be hypersensitive, so take it slow and be extra gentle.

If the coat has become matted, apply a little cornstarch, rub it in lightly with your fingers and brush it through. Some of the powder will stick to the coat, making it easier to grip. Sometimes simply pulling the knotted fur apart carefully with your fingers will free the mat. If that doesn’t work, a professional groomer should be sought. Mats that are close to the skin must be shaved off with cat-appropriate clippers used by someone familiar with the practice. It’s very easy to cut a cat, and a small nick could turn into a big problem fast.

When deciding where to groom your cat, choose a spot that’s comfortable for both of you. I like to place a rubber-backed carpeted bath mat on top of the washer or dryer. It’s the perfect height and the cats feel content on the soft, secure surface. Just make sure the machines aren’t running! The environment should be calm and quiet. Keep lots of favorite cat treats on hand and provide them often. Bribery is an effective tool for distraction as well as creating a positive association with “beauty time.”

Other helpful tools and products that will be useful are:

  • A cat flea comb, especially if your cat goes outside or shares space with a dog
  • A set of cat nail clippers (make sure they are made especially for cats)
  • Soft cotton gauze pads for cleaning around the eyes, ears and claws
  • Saline solution to rinse fur and residue from the eyes and as a gentle ear cleaner
  • An anti-static coat spray, particularly helpful in cold winter months
  • A chamois to add a nice shine to the coat
  • A goat hair bristle brush to work in the powder and distribute natural oils through the coat
  • Some catnip as a special reward after the grooming session

Spending time grooming your cat is a great bonding opportunity and will improve your relationship. It also gives you a prime opportunity to check for lumps and bumps or other abnormalities. Any physical or behavioral changes should be reported to your cat’s veterinarian right away. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This couldn’t be any truer than when it comes to grooming our cats, especially our senior cats. Start a new routine today and help keep your cat in great shape!

By: Stacey Ward

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